Tag Archives: Canada

Akira Uchida: Born to Dance

Professional dancer Akira Uchida
Dancer Akira Uchida shot by Taylor James Photography

Since the time when our ancestors danced around fires performing ceremonial rituals and entertaining their tribe, the transformational power of dance and movement in general has been around for thousands of years. Most of us have felt it– the way stress or emotional pain seems to fade away the second the music hits us and we begin moving our bodies. While many of us love to dance, there’s a huge difference between just ‘loving’ to dance and turning this magical art form into a career.

A career as a dancer is a massive undertaking that requires intense training, dedication and an insane amount of talent, something that Canadian dancer Akira Uchida has in spades. Uchida first began dancing at the age of 3 and he hasn’t stopped since.

He says, “Dance was always freeing to me, it felt natural and right. I only ever recall the feeling of pure joy stepping on to the stage and taking a dance class. I was extremely passionate and driven from the very beginning and loved devoting myself to learning. I can’t pinpoint a particular moment when I decided to pursue it professionally… I simply could never have imagined it apart from my career.”

In 2010, Uchida leaped into his professional career as a dancer with relentless fervor, and what he’s accomplished since is nothing short of amazing. Last year Uchida was selected as one of 22 finalists out of 200 to present his work and perform at the Capezio A.C.E Awards, a choreography competition that is held in New York and judged by some of the most recognizable dancers in the industry internationally, such as Emmy Award winner Mia Michaels, Primetime Emmy nominee Warren Carlyle and the Editor in Chief of Dance Magazine, Jennifer Stahl.

The previous year Uchida was tapped to perform in the emerging choreographer’s showcase Fresh Blood. For the competition he created a mesmerizing routine he calls “Interconnectivity,” which he says, “explores the fundamental concept that everything happens for a reason; every action happens at a specific time and place to provoke another set of actions – a snowball effect of pre-determined fate. In a physical sense, the dancers embodied atoms breaking and forming chemical bonds, constantly in flux.” The performance definitely turned heads and in the end Uchida earned Fresh Blood’s coveted Audience Choice Award.

While Uchida grew up fully immersed in the world of competitive dance where he earned quite a bit of success, he is one of the rare dancers who has actually managed to transcend the competition world and turn his work as a dancer into a full-time career. One area where he’s made an indelible mark as an exuberantly talented professional dancer has come through his work in television.

In 2012 he landed a key role as a featured dancer on the hit series Canada’s Got Talent, which followed two-time Primetime Emmy Award winner Martin Short (Saturday Night Live), Meahsa Brueggergosman (Project Runway Canada) and Oscar Award nominee Stephen Moccio (Pitch Perfect 2), three judges who travel across Canada to find the country’s best talent. The popular series brought chosen competitors, which included dancers to comedians, into the spotlight and give them a chance to win a $100,000 cash prize plus several other awards.

As with all performance driven reality competitions, having an entertaining production take place as the competitors take the stage is paramount to keeping viewers engaged and getting the audience excited about the show, and that is exactly what Uchida did for the series as one of the lead dancers. Uchida’s expert skill as a dancer, the mesmerizing way he moves his body and his ability to quickly learn a routine is what ultimately helped to land him a role on the show so early on in his career.

“We would learn a routine to go along with certain acts in each episode, and add energy and excitement to the performances,” recalls Uchida. “Being on ‘Canada’s Got Talent’ was an invigorating experience at the time because it was the first season for the Canadian edition of the ‘Got Talent’ series. The American rendition of ‘Got Talent’ was so successful and revered by all, which made being a part of the Canadian version a fresh experience. It made those of us involved feel like we were embarking on a project that was full of potential.”

After his success on the series Canada’s Got Talent Uchida was tapped to take on a starring role as a lead dance on the series Over the Rainbow. Another one of Canada’s performance driven reality series, Over the Rainbow followed Andrew Lloyd Webber as he searched across Canada for the girl to play Dorothy in Mirvish’s production of “The Wizard of Oz.” The performances on the series varied greatly week after week meaning that Uchida had to easily adapt and quickly learn the new routines without much time to practice. But for a dynamically talented dancer such as Uchida, immersing himself in a new routine each week was nothing new– for him the challenge was actually playing characters during dance performances on the series, something that both pushed him as an artist and proved his capacity to tap into unique roles on screen.

Akira Uchida
Jordan Clark winner of “So You Think You Can Dance Canada” season 4 (left) and Akira Uchida (right) on set of “Over the Rainbow”

“I loved the excitement of learning new routines every week. Every week we performed with different contestants, a new pairing of dancers, and an original theme and song. It kept the rehearsal process fresh,” says Uchida. “In one of the dances, the contestant played Cinderella. I was her Prince at the ball! In another, myself and dancer Jordan Clark played a celebrity couple at a movie premiere… Playing characters was challenging but very fun!”

A phenomenally talented dancer with a powerful stage presence, Uchida’s performances on the small screen have continued to attract the attention of audiences around the world. In 2013 and 2014 he was cast as a lead dancer on several episodes of the incredibly popular four-time Primetime Emmy Award nominated series Degrassi: The Next Generation. In the episode “Hypnotize,” which guest starred Niamh Wilson (Maps to the Stars, Hemlock Grove), Uchida was one of two featured dancers who performed in a full-length contemporary dance piece that was integral to the storyline in the show. During one of the main scenes Uchida and Wilson’s character Jack Jones, the love interest of one of the main characters, performed a complex dance routine, which was a major highlight of the episode and required immense skill.

“Niamh Wilson, the guest star, was a trained dancer and we were able to engage in relatively advanced choreography for the piece,” explains Uchida.  “This was also distinctive because the piece was featured and shown in its entirety. Definitely a rare sight in TV and among my favourite moments of my career…To be able to step on the set of an iconic show for Canadian youth was a very cool experience.”

His dance performances on a plethora of hit television shows over the years have definitely helped Akira Uchida establish a flawless reputation as a sought after dancer who is able to seamlessly take on any routine with style. Aside from his lead roles on television, Uchida has also had definitive success as a lead dancer in several popular music videos. In 2015 he starred in the Much Music promo video for Sam Smith’s “That Much Closer.” Considering that Sam Smith has earned an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, as well as several Billboard Music Awards and Grammy Awards, being chosen to be the main performer in the video for “That Much Closer” is a tell-tale sign of the caliber of work Uchida has become known for.

Caroline Torti, who choreographed the routine in the video along with dancer Bree Wasylenko, explains, “Akira is a chameleon and is able to replicate any style given to him by a choreographer. He is able to expertly take direction and create meaningful moments on whatever job he works on. Beyond that he is an artist in his own right and his unique movement quality makes him a very special member of any team.”

 

In 2015 Uchida choreographed the music video for solo artist Lights’ hit song “Same Sea,” one of the single’s off the album “Little Machine,” which earned the prestigious Juno Award for “Pop Album of the Year” (Canada’s equivalent of a Grammy Award in the U.S.) and debuted at No. 5 on the Canadian Album Charts.

The music video for the song “Same Sea,” which has garnered over 800,000 views on YouTube since its release, starts off in the year 5057 with Lights first appearing as a voyeuristic cyborg  observing the previous versions of herself over the centuries.

As the choreographer and one of the featured dancers in the music video Uchida, who handpicked the other dancers in the video as well, did a marvelous job of creating a routine that is fun and full of life. The video cuts back to the year 2011 where Lights, Uchida and the other dancers are fully involved in a dance class. Uchida infuses the routine with a lively energy that creates a stunning dichotomy between the futuristic version of Lights, who surrounded by robotic machinery and devoid of other humans, and that of her previous self.

“I sought to make the work powerful and uplifting, and chose to utilize high energy movements that would build moments of euphoria. I focused on creating strong visuals to highlight Lights and played with imagery based on the lyrics,” explains Uchida. “The song repeatedly talks about ‘the arms of the same sea,’ and inspired me to incorporate fluid wave-like movements in the piece. I wanted to involve elements of the sea and have her ‘swim’ amongst her dancers.”

Not only did Uchida choreograph a lyrically relevant routine that made the video for “Same Sea” entertaining to watch, but he was also tasked with teaching Lights the dance routine.

“Lights had little to no experience in dance before shooting this video, so I was responsible for coaching her on how to execute the movements properly and to help her feel as comfortable as possible,” recalls Uchida.

While he is still quite young, Akira Uchida has accomplished more over the past seven years than most professional dancers will in a lifetime; and we can’t wait to see what he does next!

Actress Shauna Bonaduce takes audiences back in time in “Embrasse-moi comme tu m’aimes”

Shauna 2
Canadian actress Shauna Bonaduce, photo by Andréanne Gauthier.

Acting has always been a part of Shauna Bonaduce’s life. As a child growing up around Montreal, performing was a favorite past time, and the stage was a second home. As a teen, she was shy and thought maybe she should consider a different field, but acting kept coming back to her, as true loves do, and audiences both in Canada and around the world are thankful, as she is a truly unique actress.

Bonaduce’s versatility in her craft is evident with every role she takes. Whether it be comedic in the hit teen show Comment devenir une legende, or serious in the popular Quebec series 30 vies, Bonaduce knows how to captivate audiences. Her work last year in the period drama Embrasse-moi comme tu m’aimes did just that.

“Era movies are great. I love getting to explore an era that I would otherwise never have the chance to get acquainted with. I love researching and having the chance to travel back in time, and getting to explore how the women of these different periods lived.  And love the dresses and hairstyles of these periods. What a chance to be able to play dress up and be paid for it,” Bonaduce joked. “Also, the cast and crews of that movie as well as the director himself were just perfect. I consider this project as one of my most memorable ones.”

The story follows twenty-two year old Pierre Sauvageau , in the year 1940. Pierre wants to join the army, but he must take care of his twin sister Berthe who is paraplegic from birth. This closeness awakens Berthe’s sensuality, who then tries to seduce her brother. Pierre rejects her advances, but when he falls in love, he is haunted by the fantasy of his sister. He would like to get rid of it, but the fantasy of Berthe is very persistent.

“The movie takes place in the 1940’s, Second World War, so research on that time was mandatory for the process. In my creative processes though, mostly when the rest has settled down (learning the lines, researches, reading the script, etc.), the costume also has some importance in helping find the character. It really helps me become the person I’m portraying. How she walks, moves, talks, holds herself, her hair, it’s very stimulating. Is she the ‘good girl’ type or more frivolous? Trendy or conservative? Feminine or more one of the boys? The costume chosen by the production always influences my performances and I’m always exited when it’s fitting day to discover what they will bring along,” said Bonaduce.

Bonaduce plays Madeleine, a pivotal character to the story, as she is Pierre’s first serious date in a long time. He takes her out to dance that night at Café Bleu. When he gets in the car with her to drive her back home, the attraction is palpable and they start kissing. But as always, his sister is there to haunt him and, confused, he decides to pretend Madeleine has bad breath and that he will just take her back home.

“Shauna truly brought the role to life, with simplicity and genuineness while still keeping it firmly rooted in the period in which the film took place. This is a valuable feat, and not one that I have seen many actors attempt successfully. Shauna’s authentic portrayal brought us back to that time. She was engaging yet had the more reserved, prim decorum that women of that time so often had. She kept enough of her personal, modern flair to remain relatable to contemporary audiences, while still offering them a genuine, organic glimpse into their nation’s past. Without a doubt, we were delighted to have Shauna amongst our actors and she definitely contributed to the success of the film, which was greatly appreciated by the audience and rewarded by two awards at the Montreal International Film Festival last September. I would work with her again anytime,” said the director Andre Forcier.

In fact, he was so impressed with Bonaduce’s portrayal of Madeleine that another collaboration between the two is already being worked on for his next feature film, though the project remains secret at this time and can’t be elaborated on. He thinks Bonaduce was able to bring the perfect balance that Madeleine needed, the poetic and theatrical yet realistic and authentic approach that characterises most of the director’s work. Bonaduce is very eager to collaborate with Forcier again.

“Andre is a great director and quite unique too. There’s only one like him and I had the chance to work on what lots of us consider like one of his bests movies. I feel extremely privileged” said Bonaduce.

Going back in time and portraying characters from other eras is one of Bonaduce’s favorite things to do as an actress. In the film La passion d’Augustine, she had to play a trendy young woman in Catholic Quebec during the 1960s.

“I definitely did some research about that era and how things where done in that time; the role of women, the convent, the importance of religion in people’s lives at that time, etc,” said Bonaduce.

In the film, Mother Augustine provides a musical education to young women no matter their socio-economic background in a small convent school in rural Quebec. She helps Alice, a young music prodigy; realize her aspirations. However, with the looming changes brought by Vatican II and Quebec’s Quiet Revolution, the school’s future is at peril. Bonaduce plays Françoise, a trendy young woman who believes in modernity and evolution. She finds this convent completely passé and is quite happy that it is under serious threat of being shot down. When leaving the Church where a meeting was organized by the nuns in a desperate attempt to save the convent, she is requested by two students of the convent to sign their petition to save it. Françoise refuses immediately, since she is very much against that idea. 

“Historical movies are my favorites and I had the chance to take part in this great movie, with a very talented director. There are too little female directors in our industry. Lea Pool in one of our great ones and she truly inspires me. She is bold, outspoken and determined. There were also lots of great Quebec actresses on the cast, from whom I admire the work a lot, Celine Bonnier is one of them, and just felt blessed to be able to see them work and learn from them. It was just such a great experience,” she concluded.

Born to Perform: Actor & Musician Evan Williams

Evan Williams
                                        Evan Williams shot by Elodie Cabrera

Hailing from Alberta, Canada, Evan Williams is a born entertainer whose astonishing talents have taken him around the world and back several times over. As a musician, he has gained the attention of Oscar-winners. As a stage actor he’s been in some of the best-known productions in the business. And as an actor on television and film he’s become an audience favorite for viewers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Williams recalls, “I got into acting through music, which was my first passion and continues to be a vital part of my life. I was a middle kid and always a bit of a clown, so I found myself comfortable on the stage at a young age. I sang in a choir as a kid, and when the opportunity to participate in musical theatre came my way I jumped at it and have never really looked back.”

Although his career began on stage, it has evolved to encompass virtually all aspects of performance. In the 2014 comedy Ride, directed by and starring Academy Award-winner Helen Hunt, Williams plays a surfer named Brad who meets Hunt’s character when she travels to California to find her son Angelo who dropped out of school to pursue the carefree surfer lifestyle. The film also stars Luke Wilson (Idiocracy, The Royal Tenenbaums) as Hunt’s surf instructor and love interest Ian.

“I’m always after the roles that scare me for one reason or another. I think these are the ones that an actor will do his best work on, because it becomes personal,” admits Williams. “I was attracted to Helen Hunt’s indie film ‘Ride’ because I knew I’d have to surf in the film.”

Williams, a lifelong musician, also wrote and performed the song “I’m Not Waiting” which Hunt selected to be used in the soundtrack for the film. This is by no means the only time his diverse skill set and talent as a musician were put to use in film though. In addition to playing the leading role of Mark Robertson in the film On Strike for Christmas, Williams’ original composition “You’re My Joy, Merry Christmas” was also chosen to be included on the film’s soundtrack.

On Strike for Christmas is a heartwarming family movie about Joy Robertson, played by Daphne Zuniga (Melrose Place, Spaceballs), who becomes fed up with her family when they refuse to help her prepare for the holiday festivities. Williams plays the role of Joy’s son Mark in the holiday classic.

This year, Williams played the lead role of Rodney in Fishing Naked. The film follows four friends on a camping trip playing pranks, causing mischief and generally wreaking havoc. After the group’s antics threaten the welfare of a local creature, the group tries to set things right with one last trick.

In his early days, Williams played Oliver in the theatre production of Shakespeare’s classic As You Like It. The play follows a noble girl as she escapes her uncle’s court, after the exile of her lover by his older brother, Oliver. The girl is then banished as well following a dramatic change of leadership. As You Like It, one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, examines the contrast between life for nobles and commoners in the 15th century.

In a production of the classic Broadway musical Guys and Dolls, Williams played the lead role of Sky Masterson, a gambling man on a mission to win the heart of a young girl whose dedication to her religion keep her from taking him seriously. The two ultimately fall in love, with her resolved to reform him into a proper gentleman.

Williams also recently wrapped production on Jay Lee’s film Gutter Slut, a social satire comedy horror film where he plays the role of Cooter, a mentally unstable hillbilly whose strict religious views are contradicted by his uncontrollable lust and violent acts. The actor also stars in the upcoming film Cannonball where he plays the role of Ian. Directed by Katherine Barrell, Cannonball revolves around a young woman who, on the night of her 30th birthday, struggles to move on from her past.

Williams says that the film “is an examination of the nature of endings, of relationships, of plans, and of ideas, of the push and pull of will and remorse.”

He adds, “It was a very personal and moving project to shoot, and I’m honored to be a part of it.”

A master of anything involving a stage, a microphone or a camera, Williams has already won the hearts of fans everywhere; and as he lands starring role after starring role in exciting new projects, it is obvious that audiences will continue to find him an omnipresent figure in entertainment with no end in sight.